Rumsfeld Arrives in Singapore for Security Talks
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
SINGAPORE, Jun. 3, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in this island nation today to meet with local leaders and deliver a speech on security issues facing the Asia-Pacific Region.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks with reporters during the opening reception for the fourth International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Conference in Singapore. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"It is an excellent opportunity to be with a large number of ministers of defense and senior officials of Pacific nations," Rumsfeld said of the Asia Security Conference, sponsored here by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Called the Shangri-La Dialogue for its location in Singapore's Shangri-La Hotel, the event is a gathering of defense ministers. Rumsfeld said the dialogue among officials is "heavily defense, but also political and economic."
"The advantage of these forums, it seems to me, is that it has the strength of being inclusive," Rumsfeld said in a short interview aboard his plane. "Some organizations, of course, have limited membership. Here, countries are invited, and for the most part they come, and they listen to each other and hear each other talk in front of each other, and that's a healthy, good thing."
He likened the conference here to NATO, in which member nations meet to work out issues and keep international relationships strong. "The Pacific countries, I think, see this as a very good opportunity," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary stressed that it's important for the United States to remain involved in this region because many democracies and free-market economies have evolved in the past 10 to 15 years. "It's a region of growing importance in the world," he said.
Rumsfeld noted the countries in this region have a host of similar security concerns: terrorism, piracy, and how the area's defense capabilities are evolving.
Any defense discussion on Asia will include the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, and China's increase in defense spending.
"North Korea is one of the world's leading proliferators of ballistic-missile technologies and potentially nuclear technologies," Rumsfeld said.
China's economy is expanding rapidly, and its defense budget is "growing apace with their economy," Rumsfeld said. "They are a major weapon purchaser in the world, largely from Russia and other countries as well."
He added that China has been "deploying a great many ballistic missiles and military capabilities over a period of years now."
The country is at a crossroads politically and economically. As a free-market economy expands in China, the government's restrictive policies and the people's desire to continue to better their lives with a prosperous economy might cause "a tension there," Rumsfeld said.
"To the extent that the People's Republic of China leads toward a freer political system, they will be a considerably more successful country and a more influential country in the world," he said. "To the extent they fail to do that, there'll be pressures against their economy; it will grow less fast and be a less influential country.
Rumsfeld also announced he's working to plan a visit to China later this year. Military-to-military contacts between the United States and China soured following the incident in April 2001 when a Chinese fighter jet bumped into an American military surveillance plane over international waters off the coast of China. The U.S. Navy EP-3 was damaged and forced to land on China's Hainan Island, where Chinese officials held the U.S. crew involuntarily for several days.
However, Rumsfeld said, "time has passed and the military relationship between the two countries is "evolving again in a way that is appropriate for the times."
U.S. military posture in Japan is another topic likely to be discussed during Rumsfeld's scheduled bilateral meeting with Yoshinori Ono, director of the Japan Defense Agency.
The Japanese public has been increasingly vocal about the heavy U.S. military population permanently based in that country. U.S. Marines in Okinawa is a particular point of contention.
Rumsfeld said talks between officials of both governments are ongoing. "Without referring to a specific base, we feel our discussions with Japan on our posture in northeast Asia have been moving along well," he said.
After several days in Asia, Rumsfeld is scheduled to travel to Stavanger, Norway, a NATO base where Iraqi troops have trained.
He will then attend a formal meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Belgium. The NATO meetings will feature defense ministers from NATO nations and other nations participating in the Partnership for Peace program, as well as Russia and Ukraine.